UnitedHealthcare’s Price-Transparency Tool is Having an Impact

UnitedHealthcare has released a study describing the results of its myHealthcare Cost Estimator, and mobile version (Health4Me). The results are, perhaps, unusual. The report concludes that patients who used these tools chose higher quality providers. However, it did not report savings from using the tools. I also note that the report was finished on February 25, but only released to the public today.

As far back as 2009, this blog discussed a previous report on consumer-driven health plans published by UnitedHealthcare, in which it promoted very precise estimates of savings through such plans. The lack of such precise estimates for the price-transparency tool suggests it is not having the same effect. On the other hand, it is having an impact by leading patients to choose higher quality providers. This must be beneficial, or UnitedHealthcare would not have released the report, even with such a long delay! And over one million people have downloaded the online app, so there is clearly a lot of interest.

Voluntary price transparency is a good thing. Nevertheless, it still does not look like health insurers have found their way around the issue. Perhaps one challenge is that these prices are still centrally planned prices, negotiated by providers and Unitedhealthcare, instead of market prices to which health insurers respond.

Comments (4)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    Two necessary conditions are: 1) transparency; and 2) an incentive for patients to compare prices. One more item helps. The first two items need explained to doctors and hospitals so they know their customers are price sensitive.

  2. Wanda J. Jones says:

    John and Devon–Once again, policy people mis-judge what is meaningful to people, and price is far behind quality and reputation. It would be good to know if people were actually working from an HSA.

    Wanda J.

    • Devon Herrick says:

      I don’t disagree that quality is important. But quality is often mere perception based on the number of freeway billboards a hospital puts up with smiling people proclaiming how compassionate and advanced the care is.

    • John R. Graham says:

      That was something I found lacking in the report: They did not segment their beneficiaries by type of plan.